The game has the player take the role of a male high-school student who joins up with other members of SEES—the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad—to attack Shadows and other beings that emerge during the "Dark Hour", a time period between each day which only few humans are aware of. The player uses weapons and magical abilities gained by the use of "Personas" to defeat foes in a turn-based combat system. An iconic feature of the game is the method by which the members of SEES release their Personas: by firing an Evoker, a gun-like object, at their head. In addition to typical RPG elements, the game includes elements of dating simulation games as the player character progresses day by day through a school year, making friends and relationships that improve the strength of his Personas in battle.
The game was well-received by critics and earned several gaming awards for 2007.
The North American version of Persona 3 contains the aforementioned art book, along with a soundtrack CD.
In the director's cut version of Persona 3, entitled Persona 3 FES, there is an extra story called "The Answer", which takes place almost a month after the events of "The Journey". It is set in the students' dorm building, and within an area called the Abyss of Time which has opened up beneath the dorm floor.
SEES encounters Ryoji, a teenage boy who tells him he is Death incarnate and that if they do not kill him by January 31, he will unwillingly usher in Nyx and the end of the world. The player is given the option to kill Ryoji at this point; if taken, the game explains that members of SEES lose memories of the last year, and show them leading normal lives until inevitably the end of the world occurs. If Ryoji is spared, then the game continues, and on January 31, SEES climbs to the top of Tartarus to face Ryoji, now in his true form of the avatar of Nyx. Though they defeat it, the avatar is able to still call forth Nyx; the moon splits open revealing a strange device that begins to kill people across the Earth. The Main Character uses all of his Social Links gained from SEES and other friends to create a seal to lock Nyx away forever, though sacrificing himself to do so.
The world returns to normal, though the memories of the past year are lost to the SEES members. As they finish school, they come to realize that they each promised to gather on the school's roof should they make it to graduation day. There, they find the Main Character lying in Aigis' lap, smiling at the brief reunion with the other SEES members before he goes into a deep sleep.
They confront Metis on this, and she reveals that the seal created by the Main Character was not to seal Nyx from humanity, but to prevent humanity from calling out to Nyx. However, due to the buildup over humanity's history, the wishes of humans that want to end their life has manifested in the being Erebus, who has been able to break through the seal, thus causing the time skip. SEES is able to fight and defeat Erebus, and return to the doors at the bottom of the Abyss to return everything to normal. They learn that Metis is actually Aigis' desire to be human, and with the threat over, the two fuse together, rendering Aigis into a brief unconscious state as had occurred to the Main Character. However, she shortly recovers, and with the rest of SEES, leave the dorm one last time as they begin to go on with their normal lives.
Persona 3 combines elements of standard console role-playing games and dating sims. The game takes place over the course of a Japanese school year. Each day goes by broken up into several periods such as "Morning", "Afternoon" and "Evening", with the Main Character going to school and then participating in selected activities during free time. The player may opt to use the free time activities to buy equipment and items at stores, talk to other non-playable characters, or spend the remainder of the free time either to build a Social Link or to improve the Main Character's attributes, such as by gaining courage by singing karaoke. Thus, the player must manage which activities or Social Links to improve in order to build up the Main Character for the exploration of the Tartarus. Certain in-game events will occur on prescribed days; Major Shadows will appear on full moons, there will be midterm and final exams within school, and school holidays give the player more time to work on other activities.
At night, the player may opt to enter Tartarus, or otherwise allow the characters to rest and recover. Tartarus is 250-floor tower which the player must eventually climb by the end of the game. Tartarus is broken into several "blocks", and various blocks are inaccessible until the Major Shadows are defeated on each full moon, thus limiting the progress through the tower. Most floors of Tartarus are randomly generated in a roguelike manner, with a random distribution of treasure and wandering Shadows, but each includes a stairway to the next floor and many also include a one-way only teleport point that allows them to escape to the first floor. Other levels contain mini-bosses that must be defeated in order to progress; these levels also feature a fixed teleport point that allows the player to travel to any other similar teleport point that has been previously accessed, thus allowing the player to skip blocks when returning to Tartarus. The player may opt to keep the party together or have each member explore the level, recovering any treasure found and fighting monsters individually. As the party explores, their health will worsen, and a member that ends up "tired" or "sick" will perform poorly in battle and may drop out before battle is complete; the only way to recover from these states is spend one or more nights without exploring Tartarus.
Combat is a turn-based affair. Each character can preform a standard melee attack with their weapon, summon their Persona to unleash an attack or spell, or use recovery and battle items. The player only directly controls the actions of the Main Character. The other members of the party can be guided through specific tactics assigned to each of them, such as maintaining the health of the party, or going all out with Persona attacks. Each foe has strengths and weaknesses; by striking a foe with an attack it is weak against, it will cause the foe to be knocked down, and the attacker will gain one more immediate attack; this can lead to a chain of attacks against each foe if the attacks are selected appropriately. If all remaining foes are knocked down, the player can opt for an "All Out" attack, with the remaining members entering a cartoon-like fight cloud, inflicting higher damage on each foe.
Within the Velvet Room, the player is able to store Personas, including their current experience and skills, and later recall them for a price. The player can also fuse from two to six Personas into a more powerful one. The result of a fusion will include selected abilities of all Personas used and will gain an experience bonus equivalent to the strength of the Social Link the Main Character has with the new Persona's Arcana. Fusing is limited by the strength of the Main Character and his Social Links; fusing the most advanced persona for an Arcana can only occur once the player has maximized the Main Character's Social Link in that Arcana.
The North American release of the game was originally scheduled for July 24, 2007, however, Atlus claimed that they had problems with the publication of the art book, opting to delay the release until August 14, 2007 in order to provide the corrected art book to fans of the game's series. In bringing the game to English-speaking countries, some of the original humor in Japanese was replaced with similar jokes in English, according to Project Leader Yu Namba.
On April 19, 2007, Atlus Japan released an add-on disk for Persona 3 called . A "director's cut" version, which included both Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES, was released on the same date. According to the game's director, Katsura Hashino, the subtitle of "FES" is said to come from the word "festival".
On October 19, 2007, a reference to a "Persona 3 Expansion Pack" was posted on the website of professional voice actor Derek Stephen Prince (who voiced Takaya in the NA version of Persona 3) under the heading "GAMES TO WATCH OUT FOR", suggesting that English localization of Persona 3 FES was indeed underway with Prince revealing the name of his role in the game: "Takeharu, Vice Police Detective." Shortly after the "leak" was publicized on online gaming forum NeoGAF, the reference was removed. In addition, the website of voice actor Liam O’Brien (who voiced Akihiko in the English localization of Persona 3) was updated to include Persona 3 FES -- and similar to Steve Prince's resume, this was removed shortly after the story broke. However, in the February 2008 issue of EGM, it was mentioned that the add-on Persona 3 FES was coming to North America.
On February 18, 2008, Atlus placed a countdown timer on their official site that held an extremely similar resemblance to the one in the opening of Persona 3. Ads also surfaced which displayed the same countdown as seen on the Atlus official site with the Atlus logo as well as an image of an arm holding an evoker. This was speculated to be a countdown to an official FES announcement.
The soundtrack for the game was entirely composed by Shoji Meguro with the exception of one track by Yosuke Uda titled Adventured act:. It was released as a 2-disc Original Soundtrack on July 19, 2006 by Aniplex. However, it does not contain the school version of Memories of School and two unused tracks found on the game CD, Burn My Dread (Karaoke Version) and a Level Up track.
The US version of the game came with a CD containing a selection of tracks.
An arrange album titled Burn My Dread -Reincarnation: Persona 3- was released on April 18, 2007 by Aniplex. It contained 11 arrangements of tracks from the game and an extended version of Burn My Dread, all arranged by Meguro.
Meguro returned to compose new music for the Fes version. The Fes Soundtrack was released on May 2, 2007 by Aniplex. The soundtrack contained arrangements from earlier Persona titles Snow Queen (composed by Kenichi Tsuchiya), Maya Theme (composed by Kenichi Tsuchiya), Persona (composed by Shoji Meguro) and Time Castle (composed by Toshiko Tasaki); Snow Queen was arranged by Tsuchiya and the other 3 by Meguro.
Mitsuru and Aigis are 1:7 scale, and the Main Character and Akihiko are 1:10 scale. The male characters will also come with a bonus mini CD containing a drama series. These CDs are unique to the figurine collections. The figurines have bases on which they stand in the form of a circle with the school's crest for Aigis and Mitsuru and a mirror for the Main Character and Akihiko. The figurines have interchangeable parts, which can be stored in the base.
Alter, another Japanese company that specializes in collectibles, has also come out with an Aigis figurine showing her mid-action. This figurine is 1:8 scale and is more detailed than the one put out by Kotobukiya. Alter also plans to release a 1:8 figurine of Mitsuru in June 2008.
The ATH-EM700 SV headphones are still available for purchase, and are physically identical, however they don't include the logo or pouch.
The game accrued a small amount of controversy during its release, due to the manner in which in-game characters summoned their "Persona". This was done by placing a gun shaped device known as an "Evoker" to their heads and pulling the trigger. Evokers, however, do not replace guns in the world of Persona 3, as real firearms are wielded by several characters in-game.
GameSpot named Persona 3 the best RPG of 2007. Gamespy named it the 2007 PS2 RPG Game of the Year and placed it second in the 2007 PS2 Top 10 Games of the Year. RPGFan gave Persona 3 the RPGFan's Best RPG of 2007 Award.